mount saint helens (8366')
worm flows route
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As a hiker or climber here in Washington you can’t help but have Mt St Helens on your to-do list. I have heard horrible things about the summer route so I chose to try out the winter worm flows route. With our nice weather this spring I felt it was time to take a chance at buying some permits for May 1st. Two months out at the time, it seemed little more than a gamble at good summit weather.
The snow began about a mile and a half climbers bivouac. It was patchy until the trail reached 4200 feet. After that I chose to put on crampons and skip the moraine that a long line of people were snaking up. It looked rocky and painful. The snow was much easier.
The climb, is as straight forward as they come. The worm flows route goes straight up another 4000 feet. While there may be some route-finding early in the year, you are more likely to find a trail to follow. As you climb, take in the views of Mt Hood to the south and Mt Adams to the east.
After taking the last few steps to reach the crater rim of Mt St Helens, I felt astonished by the 360-degree view. Rainier looked grandiose on such a clear day. The lava dome seemed ominous spewing steam. Mount Adams dominates to the southeast.
From the crater rim it is a short trip to the left (Northwest?) to reach the real summit. I reached it, but the 40 – 50 mph wind gusts made it impossible to do little but look at the ground. I spent most of the time on the summit avoiding ice chunks kicked up by wind. Attempting to check the elevation on my watch was long enough for my hand to go completely numb.
This year I plan to climb almost all Washington’s Volcanoes. Even though I have done the worm flows route before on Mount St Helens, I wanted to include it in my quest this year. The only volcano I won’t try for this year is Glacier. Along the worm flows rout this year the snow started within a half-mile of climbers bivouac. This made the initial approach far more tiring than it was last year.
Weather-wise it was a perfect sunny day. However, the summit was a mix of wind and flying ice chunks. The view was completely closed in by clouds today. There were even a few small twisters that blew across the summit of Mount St Helens. They were powerful enough that one almost knocked me off my feet.
But, I still managed to reach the summit of starting my ambitious climbing schedule right. This is starting to feel like a mountain that I will climb every year if I get the chance.
Sadly, the glissade chutes had already been well worn this year by the time I got up there. I slid down 2, but, the number of rocks was horrifying. I chose to get up and walk the way back down.
Throughout this year I would end up climbing Helens, Baker, Rainier, Shasta, and Whitney
I have been meaning to get more winter climbs under my belt. I thought that the worm flows route on Mount Saint Helens would be a good option for a first winter ascent of this year. Due to it’s easy access and usually well stomped out trail, I figured it would be a walk in the park.
I drove down early to make sure I could use the whole 8 hours of daylight we get during December. To make sue I could start early I slept in my car down the road from Marble Mountain Sno-Park.
The weather report had called for rain into early morning so I set my alarm for the soonest possible time I could get going. When I woke at 3 am it was hammering rain and hail on my car. So, instead of heading out I went through a few cycles of setting my alarm for another hour. Finally by 5 am it was decent enough to head out onto the trail.
Until the sun started to rise, I was completely alone in the dark. In the new fallen snow I found myself consulting my map frequently as there were no tracks to be had. Combine with the pitch dark it was hard to know where I was going without navigation. Luckily, I have done the worm flows route before and had a good idea from the map in my hand where I needed to head.
As the route snaked along the moraine and up to the weather station on the side of Mount Saint Helens, I contemplated how lonely a winter climb is. Until around 8 am all I could see was my solitary tracks in the snow. The world was eerily quiet and I didn’t see a single other creature. Human or not.
As I arrived at the weather station, I saw one other group of two starting up the moraine. In front of me was the climb to the crater rim and a lot of powder snow. So very glad I brought snowshoes for the day. Even with them on I was sinking 4 – 6 inches in all the powder the storm had dumped the night before.
Despite reports of ice on the upper portions of Mount Saint Helens, I never encountered any. Just powder all the way to the top. I was the lucky one who left first for the day and got the joy of breaking trail in it. By the time I was on my way back down there was 50+ people heading up.
Not much to say about this one, straight up the side of a snow covered volcano to an incredible view. Be ready for an endurance challenge and a view that will make you contemplate what awesome power nature holds just under our feet. Another Solo Bulger Peak Down….